Think about what you want in life. Is “happiness” one of those things? It usually is for most people. But, happiness is not a destination; it’s a state of being. In psychology, this state is often referred to as self-actualization.
What is Self-Actualization?
Psychologist Abraham Maslow created the concept of self-actualization. He presents it as the final stage of the hierarchy of needs, which depicts the physical and emotional needs of humans. The hierarchy of needs is often shown as a pyramid, with the most basic of needs at the bottom (food, air, sleep, shelter).
Above the lower tier are the security needs (safety, a job, stability), social needs (family, friendship, love), and esteem needs (self-respect, self-worth, achievement). The highest tier (self-actualization) is described as self-fulfillment, growth, and independence.
Those who are self-actualized often have peak experiences, which Maslow describes as feelings of intense happiness and well-being. They are accepting of themselves, appreciative of their lives, and are interested in the deep and meaningful things in life. Don’t we all want to be secure with ourselves and free (from society’s pressures and expectations)?
Keep reading to find out how you can achieve self-actualization for yourself.
1. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a state of awareness. When you’re mindful, it means that you are living in the moment and aware of your thoughts and feelings. Achieving mindfulness can be difficult, as we are often concerned about our past or our future. It can be done, though. By paying closer attention to everything you do throughout the day, you can train yourself to be more mindful. When you are eating, for example, think about how you feel, how much you enjoy the taste or the smell of the food, and how much you are consuming.
There is also a practice called mindfulness meditation, during which you focus on your body, your breathing and each thought that comes to your mind. When a thought does come to your mind, you should approach it in a non-judgmental manner.
2. Do the Things You’re Passionate About
When you’re just going through life, only doing what society expects from you, you can become unfulfilled. Many of us feel as though we have a deeper calling in life — and we do. Perhaps you only feel truly alive when you are bringing joy to others by singing or by helping others through philanthropic efforts. These are called passions and they are usually in line with your values.
Often times, we push our passions aside so that we can continue down the laid-out path that our society has made (this path includes going to school, getting a job, getting married, having kids and retiring — in that exact order). You should pursue your passions, though. They bring us pleasure and lead to psychological well-being. If you have to specifically schedule the time in your calendar to pursue your passions, then do so.
3. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
One of the main features of today’s society is social media. Think about what you do on Facebook or Instagram for a moment. If you’re like most social media users, you post pictures of your life (only the best ones, though) and you look at other people’s seemingly perfect photos and statuses. It’s really a breeding ground for comparison, which spurs feelings of jealousy and insecurity. This cannot possibly lead to happiness. In fact, studies have shown that social media use is associated with depression.
Even before social media, though, humans have compared themselves to others. It seems like a natural thing to do, but it creates a vicious cycle. Breaking free from this cycle will definitely bring you one step closer to self-actualization. So, do what you have to do in order to prevent comparisons. Log out of social media for a while, stop looking at what others are doing, and focus on your own uniquely wonderful path.
4. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Being appreciative of life, even if you have very little, is a trait of self-actualized individuals. Sometimes, it’s hard being appreciative of life when things don’t go exactly the way we want them to go. But, we all do have at least a few good things going for us. So, write these things down in a journal and make it a habit. It doesn’t matter how small the thing may be. For example, you can write “I am thankful that I have a house to live in” or “I am thankful that I am strong enough to work.”
Research shows that keeping a gratitude journal can help to lower your stress levels. It can also help you to learn more about yourself and focus on the things that matter.
5. Connect with Like-Minded Individuals
If you want to lead a positive life, you should hang around positive people, who are (or are also trying) to become self-actualized. You will definitely feel a sense of belonging (which is one of the needs on the hierarchy). Not only that, but being around like-minded, positive people will allow you to have greater self-confidence and cope with stress better.
To begin this process, reach out to others and get to know them. If you feel that a relationship is harmful to your well-being, get out of it.
6. Boost Your Self-Esteem
Having high self-esteem is crucial to being self-actualized. Those who are self-actualized have high self-worth and are comfortable being who they are. In order to boost your self-esteem, there are a few things you can do (most of them having to do with a change in perspective).
As previously mentioned, you should stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your own life and what you have. You should also let go of all the unrealistic standards you have for yourself. Set realistic goals and plan out the stepping stones on how to achieve these goals. When you achieve a smaller goal on your way to the bigger goal, you will feel better about yourself. But, even if you don’t achieve what you set out to achieve, remember that no one is perfect and we can all learn from our mistakes.
7. Be Open-Minded
Part of being self-actualized is knowing who you are, doing what you love, and reaching your full potential. In order to do this, you need to be open-minded and try new things. You may discover a talent or a passion you didn’t know you had.
It doesn’t stop at activities, though. Being open-minded also means that you give people a chance. It can really help you in both your existing relationships and in forming new relationships, too.
8. Keep Learning
Learn about yourself, other people, and various topics. Being self-actualized means having opinions (and standing by them). It means knowing your values and sticking to them. The more you learn about a topic, the better off you are when it comes to forming an opinion on it, and the more you learn about other people, the better your relationships will be. Of course, the more you learn about yourself, the more in control of yourself you will be, too. There really are no downsides to learning more.
To become a lifelong learner, you can read more, attend classes, engage in intellectual conversations, and keep a journal (which will help you in reflecting on yourself).
9. Let Go of Ego Defenses
Your ego can prevent you from being at peace with yourself. So, learn to let go of your ego defenses. For example, if you always blame others when something goes wrong, you need to take a step back and look at yourself. It can’t always be someone else that causes a problem, can it?
Analyze what you do and say in each situation, and admit when you are wrong (even if you only admit it to yourself). This will help you to learn more about your flaws, and to accept or change them if you feel that’s necessary.
10. Write a Bucket List
If you want to live a meaningful life filled with peak experiences, it’s recommended that you be clear about what you want. Writing a bucket list can help you with that. A bucket list is a list of things you want to achieve and places you want to visit.
Some examples are: “learn to swim,” “run a marathon,” and “complete a university degree.” Having a bucket list (and actually putting effort into completing it) will ensure that you don’t waste your time not doing the things you really want to do. Again, it’s important to be realistic when setting goals and to remember that mistakes or failures are a part of life.